Tuesday 21 February 2023

Buying a Used Sidecar Outfit


A Guide by 3 Wheels Better

Often, the best route into sidecars for the uninitiated is to buy a used, already built motorcycle sidecar outfit.
There are various reasons for this. 

  1. Cost. In terms of value for money, it can be cheaper to buy a used a outfit than to buy a sidecar and fit it to your motorcycle (or definitely if you buy a motorcycle as well). Used outfits do not command big money in most markets. This is usually because there are so many different combinations of bike and sidecar that each built outfit only appeals to a very small number of people. Buying a new sidecar and the fittings required, plus any subframes etc. is an expensive business. Even used sidecars can be expensive, especially once you factor in the cost of fittings, which can be as much as the sidecar itself.

  2. You don’t know anything about how to do the fitting and setup.Or you don’t want to do it, don’t think you have the necessary skills to do it, or can’t find anyone else to do it in your area. It’s not like there are sidecar shops on every high street.

  1. You are impatient and just want one NOW! 

However, there are some pitfalls to be avoided here. 

First and most important. Will the used outfit you’ve set your heart on be safe to drive and set up correctly?
A large proportion of used outfits will have been built by an individual rather than a sidecar shop.
Some that have been built by a sidecar shop may have been adapted, changed, refitted, or generally messed around with over a period of years. 

Now, I am the last person to suggest that all self fitted or older shop built outfits are bad. A great many people do a fantastic job. But not all.
If you have no experience, you will not know how to tell if it’s any good or not. 

You probably know motorcycles, so that part you can do the usual checks and be reasonably confident that all will be ok. If not, take a friend who knows to check that side of things out for you.
Of course, if you are willing to do some work yourself, you might be able to pick up a bargain on a less than great outfit which you can bring back to good working order yourself.

Here’s what you need to know and first, some good questions to ask the owner. 

When was the outfit built? If the owner doesn’t know the answer, then it’s likely that they bought it as a used built outfit. 

Who built the outfit? If they built it, did they use new fittings? If not, where did the fittings come from? Often, people use old used fittings which in some cases can be decades old, having been used, discarded in a shed or outside for years, then picked up, sold on, given a quick spray can paint  job and used again. This is a recipe for disaster.

What is the current setup and when was it last setup? They should be able to quote toe in, wheel lead and bike lean out figures. If they can’t, then you can assume that they have not checked the setup at any time, or set it up since they have owned it. This means you have to at least check the setup and very likely reset it up. Setup can change over time, especially if the outfit has been kerbed hard, or been in any kind of road traffic accident. 

When did they last check the fittings? Sidecar fittings need checking on a regular basis. Because they are the only thing holding the whole outfit together. They can become loose, they can crack. They can break. 

How does it ride? Explain that you are new to sidecars and see if they can explain how to pilot a sidecar around left and right hand corners. If their answers do not conform to the correct method, this may signal an issue with the outfit.

When did they last check or replace the sidecar wheel bearings, swingarm bearings (if any) and suspension, axle etc? 

What tyre pressures do they use? With sidecar outfits, tyres are often non standard on the bike. Tyre pressures can affect how the outfit handles dramatically. A good owner will have, over time, established what pressures work best.
Ask how long the tyres last if the owner has had it a while, they should know. 

If there are any red flags from the answers you receive and you are not happy at this stage, it’s best to walk away and find another one. Don’t waste your time looking any deeper. 

If all is well, then it’s time to check over the sidecar outfit. 

Here’s my list of checks to do (not including the bike, except for sidecar specific modifications). 

First, is the sidecar suitable for your intended purpose?
By this I mean will it fit your passenger if you intend to take one? Human or dog!
Will your passenger be able to get in and out ok? Some are considerably easier than others.
Will it carry the items that you want to carry? Maybe you want to go camping with it, etc. 

Does it have a tonneau to cover the load? 

Take a close look at how the sidecar is fitted to the bike. If it has a subframe on the bike, how is that attached? If any one part is welded to the bike frame, ask who did the welding. Welding to a motorcycle frame should only be done by skilled welders and even then, it’s almost always better avoided.
Does it look generally sturdy and solid? Stand on the side of the bike opposite the sidecar and grab a good hold of the bike. Push it hard towards the sidecar and pull it back hard. The only movement should be in the sidecar suspension. If you feel or hear knocking, something is loose. If there is movement, then the fitting is not solid. This is very bad! Investigate further. 

Take a close look at the fittings themselves. How many are there? The usual number is 4. Some sidecars can be fitted with 3, but rarely. You ideally want two upper and two lower fittings, as far apart as possible. If the two lower fittings are too close together, it’s unlikely they will support the sidecar well enough. The same applies to the upper fittings.
Are the fittings connected to the bike with frame clamps or attached to subframes? There is nothing wrong with frame clamps. But ideally, it’s better not to have frame clamps on both lower mounts, one is OK, none is better. As they can end up forming a hinge. Movement is bad. 

Are the fitting struts themselves in good order? Be suspicious of shiny new paint on old fittings. It can cover a world of sins. Are any of the fitting arms of the sliding joint type? Unless they are very substantial, these can move in use. Screw threaded arms are much better. 

Give all the arms a good pull and see if they move. They should be rock solid.
Is there a complex mess of multiple arms going from the sidecar to the bike for one fitting position? It’s always better to have one arm directly from the sidecar to the bike, to help avoid movement.
Often, amateur sidecar fitters will use more than 4 fittings. This is fine, but it will often make setup much more difficult to adjust.

If the fittings are welded in a fixed position and angle on the sidecar, you will not be able to change the setup. 

Lift the sidecar and place an axle stand, jack or something suitable to support the frame, with the wheel off the ground.
Grab hold of the sidecar wheel at the top and bottom and wiggle it to feel for any movement. There should be none. If there is, the wheel bearing either needs adjusting in the case of taper bearings, or replacing if normal bearings. Spin the wheel. It should spin freely and quietly. If it sounds rough, the bearing is worn out. Check the tyre whilst you are there, for tread, type, cracks etc.
Pull the wheel towards you and back in, you are again feeling for movement, this time in the swingarm bearings or bushes. No movement is acceptable.
Put the sidecar back down on the ground and stand on the frame and bounce. Does the suspension work quietly? Is there any damping? Check the shock absorber if it has one for leaks, condition and security of it’s mounting.
If the sidecar has a brake, how is it actuated? By cable, lever or hydraulic? How has this been linked up? There are multiple options. Does it work and release correctly? 

Take a good look at the sidecar frame. Does it look sound? Be suspicious of fresh paint on an older sidecar frame. How has it been constructed? Is it the standard frame for the body or has a different body been fitted? Made by a well known manufacturer or by who?

Have a good look at the body, open any compartments such as the boot, if it has one. Is the body securely fitted to the frame? Any cracks in the body, or rust in the seams if it’s steel?
If it has a missing screen, these can be difficult to get, or impossible, or expensive.

Looking at the bike, it may have some sidecar specific items to be checked.
The most obvious might be if it has had any modifications to the steering and suspension.
This can include various trail reduction methods, such as leading links, different forks, leading legs,  trail reducing yokes (triple trees) or hub centre steering. 
These may also be accompanied by a different front wheel, tyre, brakes and suspension units.
Ask who made these, when they were fitted and by whom. Get as much information as you can as it will be useful in the future if they require any maintenance such as new springs, brake pads etc. 

Does the bike have a steering damper fitted? Ask if the owner fitted it and if so why? If it was to prevent uncontrollable steering wobble, this will be masking an underlying issue with the outfit.
Is the steering damper fitted in such a way that it cannot impede the steering angle if it comes loose? Check the damper by turning the handlebars from lock to lock. It should not foul, or come near to fouling anything. 

Some bikes will have a modified rear wheel or car wheel and / or be fitted with a car tyre. It may have a different brake setup as well. Get as much information about this as you can. 

Is the suspension on the bike standard or has it been upgraded for sidecar work? If so, again, get as much information about this as you can. 

Electrics can be problematic. Make sure to have a good look at this area as it is one that can cause lots of problems. In it’s simplest form, sidecar electrics are limited to providing power to lamps on the sidecar itself.
Sometimes there can be a lot more!
Check the wiring from the bike that powers the lights. Has it been done neatly and well with decent connectors. Where have the 12v feeds been taken from? Are there additional fuses? Where are the connections? All these things can cause problems if not done well.
Check that all the lights on the sidecar work correctly. You should only have indicators on one side of the bike and on the sidecar. The bike indicators on the sidecar side should be disconnected, removed or otherwise disabled.
Ideally, you want indicators, a red stop and tail lamp and a white front position lamp on the sidecar.
Often people will have fitted additional driving lamps too. How are these wired up and switched? Is there a relay? Do they work? 

Sometimes people change the battery setup as well. Car batteries are sometimes fitted in the sidecar, which provide all the electrics for the bike and sidecar, including starting. This necessitates the routing of heavy amperage cables from the battery to the starting system on the bike. Have a really good look at these if fitted. They can be done well or extremely poorly. 

Sometimes on older bikes, the charging system will have been upgraded to cope with additional lighting etc. Ask if this has been done and with what system.
Ask about any other electrical upgrades such as usb ports, chargers, music systems, etc.

In some countries, towbars are allowed on outfits. If the outfit has one and you intend to use it, have a good look at how it has been constructed. They can vary from excellent to dangerous. Ask how the owner has been using it and check the electrical connection if possible on their trailer. 

Test driving. 

Unless you already have some experience of driving a sidecar outfit, I do not recommend that you perform a test drive. At best, you will not learn anything as you do not know how it should drive. At worst you will scare yourself or have an accident. This is more common than you might think. Driving a sidecar outfit is nothing at all like riding a solo motorcycle and it requires time, knowledge and patience to be able to do it safely.
Of course, ask the owner if they would be willing to take you for a ride with you in the sidecar.

If you go ahead with the purchase, arrange to get the sidecar taken to your home or to a place where you will get some instruction or be able to ride it in an off the public road area where you can become accustomed to it. The owner may be willing to help you with this.
Many people will say that they rode their first outfit home. They won’t always be willing to mention how they almost came to grief along the way. 

You can find a full set of sidecar riding lessons, developed over many years by me, as a sidecar instructor, which you can do by yourself, in The Sidecar Guide Book.

The book also contains a wealth of other information useful for new sidecar owners.
You can find it on Amazon in printed form or as an eBook for instant download on my website. 


If you decide to fit your own sidecar or even build your own sidecar, you will find The Sidecar Technical Guide book invaluable. You can find this book in the same places as above. 

I wish you luck and fun with your new sidecar outfit. 

Please feel free to join our sidecar group on Facebook, where we like to help all sidecar drivers with advice and assistance in all matters related to sidecars. The group accompanies the Sidecar Guide Books. 

3WB The Sidecar Guide

Monday 6 February 2023

Sidecar steering, wobble, trail and leading links

 One of the most misunderstood areas surrounding sidecars is the steering.

The main issues that people are looking to solve are steering wobble and heavy steering. 

Before looking at how to solve these issues, it’s important to understand what is going on at the front wheel and how it steers. 

Your standard solo motorcycle has geometry that is set by the manufacturer to ensure that it steers in a stable fashion. This is known as trail. The trail figure is set to ensure that the bike steers in a straight line if it receives no inputs from the rider. This is required on a solo to provide stability at speed. We’ve all seen video or witnessed a riderless bike carrying on in a straight line, bolt upright, until it either slows down and falls over or hits another object.
Trail is what makes this happen.
You probably know that sports and racing bikes are built with less trail than other types of motorcycles, this is done to provide fast steering at high speeds. But it comes at a cost and that cost is a lack of stability. Often these are fitted with steering dampers to remove steering wobble. But we are not riding race bikes. Sidecars are different.

So in essence, trail keeps the steering in a straight line and makes it harder to turn the steering at an angle. You know that at higher speeds, more steering effort is required to turn the bike sharply. 

This is not helpful for a sidecar, since the only way to steer a sidecar outfit, is to turn the steering. 

Many people confuse the terms rake and trail and speak about raked forks and yokes, when they mean reduced trail. 

So if the trail figure is very high, it can be helpful to reduce it with some method, in order to provide a reduction in steering effort.

However, like everything with sidecars, there is a compromise to be reached. Because if we reduce the trail too much, we also reduce stability in a straight line. This is not helpful for a few reasons.
Firstly, it can make the sidecar difficult to control as there is very little feel in the steering and it is difficult to make accurate turns without over steering, which can also induce sidecar lift during turns towards the sidecar more easily. 

Secondly, the reduction in stability induces front wheel wobble.

A very common situation then occurs, whereby trail is reduced dramatically, giving very light steering but also a high degree of instability causing wheel wobble which is then hidden by fitting a steering damper.
A steering damper does not remove the steering wobble, it simply masks it. The wheel is still trying to wobble, but is prevented from doing so by the damper. 

It is better to provide a trail figure that reduces the steering effort to a reasonable level whilst retaining stability without the need for a damper. 

Many people suggest that fitting leading link forks will cure steering wobble. This is most certainly untrue. The primary reason that most people fit leading links is to lighten the steering, which is achieved through a lower trail figure. 

A lower trail figure will always promote the likelihood of more steering wobble.

However this is where things become less clear, since there are other factors which cause steering wobble. One of the main factors is tyre choice and pressure.
When leading links are fitted, most often the choice of a different tyre and pressure is made.
In many cases, the front tyre alone can solve steering wobble. 

So after fitting leading links and a new tyre, the steering wobble has gone and the leading links are claimed as being the solution. Whereas in fact, it may well have been the tyre that solved the problem. Or perhaps the steering head bearings are replaced at the same time as the new forks, also a prime factor in steering wobble. 

These are the reasons why people spread the idea that leading links solve steering wobble, it’s understandable, but inaccurate information. 

Let’s imagine that an outfit had minor steering wobble with standard forks, due to already having a relatively low trail figure. 
Leading links were made with the same trail figure as the standard front forks. The same wheel and tyre is used. The steering wobble might improve in this situation.
Leading link forks tend to be more structurally rigid than telescopic forks. This additional rigidity can remove some of the tendency towards steering wobble. The same effect could be achieved by fitting a sturdy fork brace to the telescopic forks.
A combination of a more suitable tyre, running at a different pressure, with a fork brace on standard telescopic forks with heavier oil and good, well adjusted steering head bearings can produce an outfit that is easy to steer with no wobble. All at considerably less cost than leading link forks. 

Many people suggest a trail figure of around 60mm is ideal for sidecar outfits. In almost all cases this is too low. The steering will be extremely light of course but with almost no straight line stability. A damper will almost certainly be required to prevent wobble, making the steering heavier again to a degree. 

If the trail was set to somewhere in the 80 to 100mm range, the steering would be light, but with enough feel to retain good control and also reduce the likelihood of steering wobble and not require a damper. 

Many standard solos have a trail figure around 90mm. Very often ADV style bikes are in this area. 

Low speed steering wobble, if it is not violent, and the trail is not set too low, can usually be controlled by driving technique.
Keeping both hands on the handlebars, without gripping tightly, can often be enough to prevent it happening. Moreover, a positive driving style will prevent wobble which occurs at around 15 to 20mph. This is the speed range when most wobble occurs.
Pull away positively on the throttle and drive through this range and it’s likely the wobble will not begin.
This assumes that there is no wobble at all at any higher speeds which will be caused by some serious irregularity with the outfit, including loose fittings, worn wheel bearings, any movement in suspension swingarms, worn or loose steering head bearings and the sidecar is accurately set up. 

The slightly heavier steering provided by a medium amount of trail rather than a super low setting can be perfectly acceptable if the outfit is ridden using the sidecar steering effect.
By this we mean the steering effect provided by the sidecar under acceleration or deceleration.

In turns towards the sidecar, accelerating or braking only the sidecar, will cause the sidecar to pull the outfit around the turn.
In turns away from the sidecar, decelerating either by simply rolling off the throttle, changing down through the gears or braking the bike only (not applying the sidecar brake), will make the sidecar pull the outfit around the turn. 

This sidecar effect means that you need to provide far less steering effort to make turns. 

You may have noticed that if you try to accelerate whilst turning away from the sidecar, the steering effort required is much greater. That’s the sidecar effect working against you. 

The heavier that your sidecar is compared to the bike weight, the more exaggerated the sidecar effect will be. So for example with a passenger, it becomes far greater. 

It’s worth pointing out that there are other methods for reducing trail, than just leading link forks.
There are reduced trail yokes (triple trees), leading legs and hub center steering. 

On some bikes like BMW’s that have a Telelever front suspension, trail can be reduced easily with a custom made bracket. 

Trail can also be slightly modified just by lowering the front end by dropping the yokes (triple trees) down the fork legs. For many outfits that start with a relatively low standard trail figure, this can be enough. 

Finally, what you choose as a trail figure is up to you. Some will still go for super low trail figures. I have seen outfits with as little as 40mm of trail. But at least make a choice with all the information in front of you.
The difficulty being that you cannot know in advance exactly how you will like the new trail figure before you make the changes, although with leading link forks, it is possible to provide adjustable trail, which might be the key to getting it right for some who don’t have experience of driving sidecars with different levels of trail. 

If you want to learn more about how accurate total setup of your sidecar and bike can eliminate steering wobble and provide a better sidecar driving experience, read The Sidecar Guide and The Sidecar Technical Guide books. Available in print from Amazon or in Ebook format directly from our website at www.threewheelsbetter.uk


Friday 21 February 2020

Motorcycle sidecar books from 3WB

The Sidecar Guide, Sidecar Technical Guide and Sidecar Legal Guide books are the first new books of this type written in many years. Over 800 copies sold.

We all know that there is a wealth of information available on the WWW regarding sidecars, but sometimes it's useful to have all the answers in a handy reference guide. It's also difficult to understand what is good advice and what is not on the internet, with many conflicting pieces of information.

So I decided to write the Sidecar Guides. They are all written by me, from my direct experience of building hundreds of sidecar outfits over many years as Motopodd and subsequently 3 Wheels Better Sidecars. The books are self published, all work inside is my own, I produce my own website and social media for 3WB and do this for the good of the worldwide sidecar community.

Recent reviews on Amazon
Essential reading, the sidecar driver's bible.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 10 September 2019

This is potentially a lifesaver for the new sidecar driver and certainly a good reminder for experienced drivers. It has tips on what to look for in an outfit. What to avoid in an outfit and much more on the aquisition of your first and subsequent outfits. It busts open a few myths as well with good experience and some logical arguments.
Then there is the learning how to actually drive the beast, not just to get from A to B but how to have fun and really enjoy the new skill of driving something so unusual and quirky. He starts with basic skills progressing on to much more advanced techniques, and explains along the way the science of these very individual and interesting machines.
The important information about setting up and maintaining your outfit is not to be ignored either as again it's not particularly difficult if you look after your motorcycle, but it's different and in very important ways.
I'm so glad I brought this as driving an outfit is very different to riding a solo machine and the question "how hard can it be" is answered "harder if you don't read this, to the point where fatal is a possibility".

Excellent and a very comprehensive introduction to sidecar construction

Reviewed in the United States on 3 February 2020

"The technical guide is a informal but comprehensive manual that introducing fabrication techniques. The author has shared his vast experience as a sidecar builder. Mr. Young explains fabrication techniques that could only be learned by years of experience. The tips he gives are useful in any form of metal work and not just sidecar building. As an iron fabricator myself I gave Mr.. Young's Sidecar Technical Guide 5 stars because of the simple and clear explanations about working with metal and the excellent section on sidecar electricity. The rig set up and problem troubleshooting sections are excellent. You just won't find a lot of the information in the sidecar technical manual anywhere else - both about sidecars and fabrication. His warning about bad design or poor fabrication practices is right on: The first thing that happens is that you crash, the second thing that happens depends on luck. Yet it is true that if you do good work, don't take shortcuts, fix what is obviously wrong, and think things through most anyone should be able to build a sidecar. Three wheels are better than only two."

The Sidecar Guide is for the potential sidecar owner and all existing sidecar owners. This book aims to help you choose a sidecar, guiding you through the process for new or used. It goes on to deliver a full training guide for those people that are new to riding a sidecar or want to improve their skills.

It discusses every aspect of sidecar ownership, from taking a dog in your sidecar, advice for disabled sidecar owners, experiences of new sidecar riders, optional accessories for sidecars, tyres, fittings, leading links and a full section on how to correctly setup your sidecar so that it handles well with light steering and no steering wobble.

The Sidecar Guide has 93 pages filled with original information, pictures and diagram

The Sidecar Technical Guide is for the owner who wants to know more. In detail, it explains how to go about designing and building your own sidecar with full detailed engineering drawings and plans. There is a section on fitting including how to design and build subframes for your motorcycle. Trail reduction and leading links are fully explained along with details on how to build or adapt a set of leading links to fit your motorcycle outfit. Every technical aspect of sidecar outfits is explained in simple to understand language and with plenty of images and diagrams to help.

There is a full section on electrics including how to wire up your sidecar and fit electrical accessories. The Sidecar Technical Guide has 95 pages of information, pictures, plans and diagrams.

**NEW** The Sidecar Legal Guide provides 50 pages of information on the legal aspects of sidecars. It covers driving license rquirements needed to ride a sidecar, when and how to get your license, vehicle registration with the DVLA, sidecar construction and design regulations, MOT testing requirements,insurance and towing.

The Great Britain version is currently available. I will be adding U.S. and Australian versions as soon as they are complete

Together, The Sidecar Guides provide a complete reference for the sidecar owner. Both are suitable for left or right handed sidecar outfits.

The books are on sale now in paperback and PDF e-book format, which can be read on many devices, phone, tablet, some Kindle devices or computer.

These books are fully backed up with an online resource in the shape of a Facebook Group where we help sidecar owners out with their questions. The group is properly moderated, so only accurate information is shared.

3WB The Sidecar Guides Facebook Group

You can also visit our Facebook Page for 3WB Sidecars

You can find out more information and order your paperback copies using the Amazon links on our website, or order the e-books directly. Paperback book orders are fulfilled by Amazon.

You can also just search your countries Amazon site (UK, US, DE, JP, AU, etc) for The Sidecar Guide or The Sidecar Technical Guide.

Ordering information

If you order an e-book from our website, you will be sent a download link immediately after ordering by email.

Click here to order instant download e-books: 3WB The Sidecar Guide

Here are the paperback book Amazon links for the UK (Amazon.co.uk):

The Sidecar Guide

The Sidecar Technical Guide

Here are the paperback book Amazon links for the US (Amazon.com):

The Sidecar Guide

The Sidecar Technical Guide

Two Wheels Good, Three Wheels Better!

Thanks for your interest,

Rod Young 3WB

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Motorcycle sidecar subframes

As we all know, most modern bikes require some sort of subframe to allow a sidecar to be fitted.
This is a complex area and often, sidecar riders are looking for an easy, off the shelf solution for this.

Unfortunately, this is a rarely realised solution. This is because most sidecar companies are very small, they do not have the capacity or the demand, to build subframes for every model of bike and keep them in stock. Nor do they have the jigs etc, required to build them because they haven't fitted all the bikes that were ever made.

So, when you call the company and they say, "we don't have one, we need your bike for a week or so whilst we build it" that's about par for the course.

In some cases, for a popular bike like Triumph Bonneville for example, they might be able to build you one without your bike. But this doesnt always go well.

Even though bikes are mass produced, often, pre-made subframes don't quite line up when they arrive. Or you have accessories fitted or modifications that prevent it from fitting.

It is of course possible to build your own subframe. If it's a simple subframe, you might not even need to be able to weld, you can bolt sections together.

In the Sidecar Technical Guide, I go into great detail about subframes. How to design them, where the best places are on the bike to fit them, what materials to use etc. Photos and drawings back this all up.

If you aren't able to fabricate yourself, you can often find a fabricator locally, it doesnt need to be a sidecar specialist. Using the information in the Sidecar Technical Guide, you can work with the fabricator to get one made for your bike.

The Sidecar Technical Guide can be found here.

It is available as an eBook directly off my website, or in print at Amazon. (just search Google or Amazon for The Sidecar Technical Guide).

Sunday 16 February 2020

Acoustic Memories

Something different today on my 53rd birthday.

38 years ago I was 14 and obsessed with the guitar. I did little else.
Motorcycles hadn't yet appeared in my world aside from the occasional dreaming whilst staring at these unobtainable machines in the local bike shop.

Recently I rediscovered these 4 guitar tracks that I recorded back in 1982.
The music was composed by me, recorded and mixed on a simple four track machine with other sounds and beats provided by a Roland SH101.

I've recorded some fractal video and put them all together in a YouTube playlist.

Some German guy has complained that my 1st track video is his copyright (it's not, it's a free fractal on an open license from Pixabay) so track 1 is currently unavailable while we sort that out with Youtube.


The set is called "Acoustic Memories" and consists of:

Track 01: "The Universe of Her Dreams"
Track 02: "Force of Nature"
Track 03: "Sueno"
Track 04: "El Domino del Desire"

Monday 10 February 2020

The Treble Express – 2300cc Triumph Rocket III powered wheelchair motorcycle sidecar

A custom built motorcycle and sidecar to give a young disabled motorcycle fan, the closest possible experience to riding a motorcycle, with his Dad in the riding seat.

It’s a familiar story, your Dad had a bike or maybe your Uncle did, you were just a snotty kid and everyone else was into cars, but you knew right from the first time you saw that bike that one day you’d have one. It was all that mattered, you’d spend hours poring through magazines or staring in the bike shop window; years before you were even old enough to hold a licence. You hit 16 and if you were lucky, you’re parents would allow you to have a 50. Soon you were 17 and that meant a 125, or if you’re a bit older, a 250. You still ride a bike now and you’ve filled your life with motorcycle related memories.

Nothing was ever going to stop me from having a bike; which is why I decided to build a rather unusual project for a young man named Luke.

Luke has a deep passion for motorcycles, he has done all his life, but for him there was to be no 50cc moped at 16, no 125 at 17 and for him, it was beginning to look as if he’d never get any closer to a bike than he was when aged 4, in the photo, next to his Dad’s Z1300. Luke and his Dad Alan are regular visitors to Mallory Park, where Luke especially enjoys the sidecar racing. The only thing stopping me from riding a bike at 16 was my parents, I just ignored them and got one anyway.

It was late Spring 2011 when Luke’s Dad first contacted me, with a simple enquiry. Would it be possible to fabricate a sidecar that would take a heavy, (122kg) powered wheelchair?

I thought about it for no more than half an hour and replied that basically, yes, it could be done and yes, I’d love to build it for him. You see, Luke can’t ignore his reason, he was born with cerebral palsy and will never be able to ride his own bike or even ride pillion. Sod that, I was going to build him one that he could ride.

Luke’s method of travel so far, has involved driving his wheelchair into the back of large converted car and spending the trip effectively in the boot. This is no way for a biker to travel. We exchanged a few more emails and soon decided to meet up.

Luke and Alan came to see me and we sat in the workshop talking about bikes and sidecars whilst I showed them some photographs of various sidecars that might spark some design ideas. Whilst we knew that this was going to be an extraordinary sidecar for it to be able to take Luke in his chair, we quickly established that it also had to look exceptionally cool and would not look like any kind of invalid carriage.

One other thing we knew, was that if we were going to do this, we’d need a large, powerful bike. Luke and Alan decided to go ahead with the project after much discussion and Luke soon became the owner of a low mileage, 2006 Triumph Rocket III, bought from their local dealer, Windy Corner. I sketched up an idea of what I thought the finished sidecar might look like and we agreed a complex and exciting specification. Not only would the sidecar be a unique and exciting design, but the bike would also be heavily modified. Luke was no sleeping partner during the whole design process, his ideas have shaped the design and specification from the start. I regularly receive messages asking if we can incorporate his latest idea into the design.

I named the project the Treble Express, as there is a theme of ‘3’ throughout the design. Those three huge cylinders on the 2300cc engine, three wheels in total and a stainless steel, triple tube designed upper space frame. The sidecar fittings are all custom made with stainless eye bolt fixings. The bike has a cut down back end to expose the huge 225 section flat profile tyre, the front end has been replaced with a super chunky, stainless steel leading link front end, with custom billet alloy yokes and a wide car wheel and 205 section tyre. A whole new brake system has been built, the rear brake activating the sidecar wheel and we have custom brake calipers along with custom wheel hubs. The exhaust system exits on the right hand side and be styled like the Triumph X75 Hurricane, three pipes in a stack, but much bigger! The sidecar has an entry ramp system that rolls away out of sight, underneath the floor whilst Luke will ride the sidecar from an aluminium-panelled cockpit, exposing him to the elements.

His wheelchair is held in place by electrically controlled belts.
Luke has his own set of Triumph Rocket instruments, speedo, rev counter etc., to help him achieve the full bike experience. All functions are enabled.
The body panels and the bike are painted in a blue and white scheme, the colours chosen by Luke, after much deliberation.
Luke collected The Treble Express from the Ace Cafe, on Sidecar Sunday in 2012.  He took his first of many rides on that day. There wasn't a dry eye in sight. It was emotional.

The Treble Express was shown at the London International Custom Show where it attracted much attention and admiration.

Sunday 9 February 2020

5. Don't be a dinosaur!

Side(car) stepping around the electric revolution...

The Government's new legislation for 2035 has been taken by many to mean that only pure electric cars and vans can be bought new from that date.

This is not the case. It states only that they cannot be petrol, diesel or hybrid powered.

This leaves gas, either LPG or bio-CNG as valid alternatives. But whether or not they will get any investment and become available from manufacturers is far from clear. The Government is pushing only fully electric powered vehicles in the case of cars and vans.

Where does leave us?

Well, we know that we will be allowed to continue to use our petrol engined outfits past the 2035 date, but we don't know how much we will be penalised for doing this in terms of taxation and being banned from city centres etc. We should assume that these penalties will get stiffer as time goes on.

So we need a plan. A plan is always better than hoping for the best.

There is nothing in current legislation nor is there anything suggested, to prevent us from converting an existing engine to run on gas, LPG or bio-CNG.

An LPG powered engine produces 11% less CO2 than a petrol engine at the tailpipe. Overall, well to wheel, which includes production of the fuel, LPG produces around 27% less CO2 than petrol. This is the real life figure. Bio-CNG is even cleaner.

LPG and bio-CNG also produce far lower other damaging emissions than petrol and diesel.

LPG is widely available in the UK at filling stations and you can also have a large tank installed at home if you wish. You could currently have a Bio-CNG tank at home, but it is basically unavailable on the road in the UK.

Sadly,  gas doesn't help us when it comes to low emission zones. LPG vehicles must pay the charges to enter them.

The benefits of an LPG conversion are many. The fuel itself is considerably cheaper. It's widely available and is unlikely to rise in price alongside petrol, which petrol surely will as 2035 approaches. If correctly registered, you will get a lower VED taxation rate as well.

If and when bio-CNG becomes more widespread, (like it is in many other countries) then your LPG powered outfit can easily be switched over to the new gas.

If your handy with the spanners, you can buy the neccessary parts and convert any bike engine to LPG yourself, then, if you want, take it for inspection by an approved LPG installer and get it registered with the DVLA as a LPG powered vehicle.

I'm going to look into a DIY LPG conversion on my BMW R80 outfit. I don't need to, I live in Croatia, where there are currently no plans to implement a petrol vehicle ban. But I can still do my bit for the environment and save almost 50% on my fuel costs at the same time.

I'd like to have an electric motorcycle outfit but the cost is too high for me. This is a shame because many of the journeys I make are feasible with electric power. I'm really not bothered about the noise that a petrol engine makes. I certainly don't subscribe to the nonsense often spouted about pedestrians being struck down by the silent EV assassins. That's just nonsense. Every pure electric vehicle produced has to make the same amount of noise as a petrol or diesel vehicle up to 19mph. That's the law in the UK. Also, I believe you are supposed to look each way before stepping into the road. It might help if you removed your earphones too.

Riding an electric bike is a good experience too, they have astonishing torque, all of which is available from 0mph. But sadly the cost prohibits them for me.

I am intrigued by electric powered bicycles though. Bear with me here, there's a lot going for them and there is sidecar potential.

In many European countries, people are using ebikes in rapidly increasing numbers and cutting out uneccessary car or motorcycle journeys. The specific type of ebike use that interests me here is the so called "Cargo eBike". These bikes have an extended frame with a large cargo carrying section up front of the rider. This load area can carry all manner of goods or passengers. Many parents are using them for the school run. They can load up 2 or 3 children and take them to school, or into town.
eBikes don't suffer from the extended charging periods that plague cars and motorcycles because their  batteries are much lower in capacity. But you still have a useful range of 50 miles.

It seems to me that I could use the drive system, the best of which is made by Bosch, in a sidecar eBike. I can build a sidecar so I could easily build an electric eSidecar bike. I've then got a vehicle that emits no pollution and is so cheap to run that it's virtually free. Especially if we go ahead with our solar plans and top up with free power at home. My most frequent medium distance trip is to the nearest small city of Zadar and back, which I can do on a 50 mile range.
All of this can be achieved without the need for a license, VED tax or insurance costs.
OK, so they aren't fast and I can't go serious distance on one, but I get my sidecar fix in a different way. When I want to go further, the LPG outfit comes out.
I've done some pedally bike cycling recently, after not doing this for several decades, it's actually quite pleasant but my knees aren't really up to it and the hills are a killer. Modern eBikes (or pedelecs as they are known) get around this with a system known as pedal assistance. This has the added benefit of increasing the range.
How does that work?

It works like this. There's a set of pedals as you'd find on any regular bicycle. But they have sensors fitted which translate how much effort you are putting in and assist this with the electric motor.
You can choose various levels of electric assistance, the more assistance you choose, the easier it is to climb hills or achieve your maximum speed. Obviously, the range of the battery drops alongside this.
For many people, it means that on a cargo eBike, you can carry a load and get up hills without getting all sweaty.

A while back I bought a 125cc Honda Grom for use around town and for smaller trips. My thinking was to save the engines on my bigger bikes because they were barely getting warmed up between stops and it just seemed a bit unfair on them. The little Grom has been a revelation for me. The fuel consumption is outstanding and it does everything I need to do over short distances at a low cost.

The problem here is that when we compare something like this to an electric alternative, we only see the negative differences. The Grom is always ready to go with a splash of fuel. It can do 50mph all day long whilst sipping fuel. It was cheap to purchase, insurance etc is cheap too.

But since I've been cycling a bit, my perspective has changed. This is useful and allows me to make different choices. I can cycle to town, get some shopping and cycle back at zero cost. I like that. It takes longer, but that's not an issue for me. I enjoy the journey more because I get to see a lot more along the way.
An eSidecar based on a pedelec system would make me smile everytime I rode it, in the same way that my R80 outfit does. I'm not bothered about travelling 10 miles at an average speed of 15mph instead of an average of 40mph. It's a difference of 25 minutes. That's 25 minutes more sidecar time. I'm happy with that. I wouldn't be sweaty or have aching knees when I arrived either.
I'd have almost zero cost to pay too. A full charge of a 500W battery would cost me around 7p.
Nothing once we get the solar up and running.

Let's compare that to using the most frugal vehicle I own. The mighty Grom 125cc.

If I used the Grom every day of the year for a 20 miles a day, at a fuel cost of  £1.26 per litre, ignoring insurance, MOT, a service and VED tax;  what would it cost me?

The average fuel consumption of a Grom according to Fuelly, is 100mpg.

So, that's 20 miles x 356 days = 7,120 miles.

At 100mpg that makes 71.2 gallons of fuel @ a cost of  £1.26 x 4.55 per gallon.

That's 71.2 gallons x 4.55 = £323.96 per year.

My eSidecar doing the same mileage at 7p per daily full charge will cost me:

£0.07 x 356 = £24.92

In reality, I wouldn't need to charge it every day as my range on the 500Kw battery is 40 miles. But let's be conservative and say I did charge it every night.

That's a fuel saving of £299.04  Let's call it £300.

If I add in my other Grom running expenses, insurance etc. I'm saving at least £450 per year on my smaller journeys.

But for the purposes of this discussion, more importantly, I'm cutting my emissions to nothing for all of my smaller journeys.

If I look at the BMW R80 outfit comparison between petrol and LPG, it shows me this:

Let's say I do 6000 miles a year on the outfit.

At current unleaded prices, as above, that will cost me what?

The average mpg on the R80 outfit is 42mpg.

6000 miles at 42mpg = 142.8 gallons at a cost of £818.67 per year.

LPG costs £2.96 per gallon.

That's a total cost of £422 per year.

I'm saving £396 per year. Let's call it £400.

Add that to the eSidecar savings and I'm up £700 a year and I'm doing my bit for the environment.

OK, so none of this is strictly neccessary in terms of the 2035 petrol vehicle ban, but it's something that I think we could all be considering.

Come 2035, I've already got an LPG outfit and an eSidecar that will perform all of my transport needs within the law and at a considerable cost saving to me. Plus over the 15 years up until 2035, I'll have already cut my emissions massively, ahead of the legislation.

Or I could say "you can take my petrol engined outfit off me over my cold, dead body" which seems to be the stance taken by many.  That's not the way I roll.

As the Mobil Oil company said, way back in 1979 during their campaign to save energy, "Don't be a dinosaur".